The Hokey Pokey

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.

You put your right foot in,

You put your right foot out,

You put your right foot in,

And you shake it all about

You do the hokey Pokey And you turn it all around

That's what it's all about!

You put your left foot in, You put your left foot out,

Etc. etc. etc.

For some reason, "The Hokey Pokey" always brings people up; it makes people happier. Why is the Hokey Pokey so popular and beloved? Well, you can come up with your own theory, but no other song seems to symbolize a good time for people and bring a smile to their faces to quite the same extent. In 1942, Irish songwriter and publisher Jimmy Kennedy, best known for "The Teddy Bear's Picnic," created a dance and an instruction song to go with it called "The Hokey Cokey." Written to entertain Canadian troops stationed in London, this song is similar to, but not the same as "The Hokey Pokey" we all know. 

Composer Al Tabor was also entertaining Canadian troops in wartime London, and in 1942, he wrote a participation dance called "The Hokey Pokey." He claimed the name came from the London ice cream vendors of his youth, called "Hokey Pokey Men." The accompanying dance was very similar to Kennedy's. In 1946, totally unaware of the British "Hokey Pokey" and "Hokey Cokey," two Scranton, Pennsylvania musicians, Robert Degan and Joe Brier, recorded "The Hokey Pokey Dance" to entertain summer vacationers at Poconos Mountain resorts. The song was a regional favorite at dances and resorts for the rest of the forties, but that still isn't the song we know today.

As if to confuse matters even more, British bandleader Gerry Hoey also claimed authorship in 1940 of a similar tune "The Hoey Oka." The general belief is that Charles Mack, Taft Baker, and Larry Laprise wrote the American version of the song, "The Hokey Pokey," in 1949 to entertain skiers at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. The song was a hit at resorts, so Laprise recorded it. It flopped, but Degan and Brier found out about it and sued Laprise for ripping off their "Hokey Pokey Dance."

Despite the fact that his version came out after theirs, Laprise won the rights to anything to do with "The Hokey Pokey."

(YouTube link)

The 1953 recording by Ray Anthony and his Orchestra featuring vocals by Jo Ann Greer. In 1953, Ray Anthony's orchestra recorded it -a double sided single with "The Bunny Hop"- and it went to #13 on the charts. This is the version we know today. The origins of the song go back further than this, however. Some argue that "The Hokey Pokey" (or "Cokey") is a corruption of "hocus pocus," the familiar term used by magicians. "Hocus pocus" derives, in turn, from Catholic Mass: hoc corpus meum ("this is my body"), indicating the conversion of the communion bread into the body of Jesus Christ.

The dance that goes along with the song, in which the participants all dance in a ring, putting the relevant arm or foot in and out, and then shaking it about, goes back a fair way, too. Similar dances and songs were recorded in Robert Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1826), and other versions have been traced to seventeenth-century minstrels. "The Hokey-Pokey" would appear to ridicule the religious rituals of the Shakers (so named for their jerky movements while engaging in worship), who both danced and sang during their services.

(YouTube link)

Comedian Jim Breuer shows us what the Hokey Pokey would sound like performed by AC/DC. But the earliest accurate record, so far, of the song we all know and love is from an account, dated 1857, of two sisters from Canterbury, England, on a trip to Bridgewater, New Hampshire. During their visit, they taught the locals a song that went something like this:

I put my right hand in. I put my right hand out, I give my hand a shake, shake, shake, And I turn myself about.

Apparently, the performance of the song -called "Right Elbow In" and several verses long- was accompanied by "appropriate gestures" and was danced in a slow, rhythmic motion. Whether or not an earlier reference will ever be found, it seems the origins of "The Hokey Pokey" do not lie in America, as currently claimed. The song was merely exported there. The song's great popularity, however, remains in the hearts and minds of countless millions of Americans, and "The Hokey Pokey" is definitely a part of Americana.

(YouTube link)

The hip hop version of the Hokey Pokey by The Puppies was used for this dance recital from 2005. (Title image source: I Can Has Cheezburger)

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Funny seeing the "hip-hop" version of the Hokey Pokey on the YouTube link. Seeing those young girls dancing in such a funky way to that sweet wholesome little song is kind of funny. Anyway, great work, Eddie. Your articles are always among my favorite ones here.
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In the UK we would be astonished to hear that the Hokey Cokey (definitely "Cokey") had any US connections at all.

Here, it is almost exclusively connected with London's Pearly Kings and Queens ( I can imagine very little that more strongly evokes Englishness.
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